Thom Pegg presents African American Artists
April 21, 2012
Location: 2764 East 55th Place, Indianapolis, IN 46220
More Info: 317-251-5635
Record Auction Price - $114,000
African American Art has been one of the hottest areas in the marketplace of American art for the last 10 years. This is likely due to the confluence of interest from three major sources: African Americans wanting to celebrate their own heritage by collecting artwork created by their own people, often with shared similar life-experiences; from American art enthusiasts whose collection is missing an appropriate representation of this “sub-category”; and from museums who are responding to a growing demand to include works by these artists in their collections and thereby making it accessible to the public.
Where there are distinct groups of collectors chasing the same thing there are the makings of a successful auction. This concept was supported at the inaugural boutique auction of Historically Significant African American Art presented by AntiqueHelper in Indianapolis on April 21st.
Bidders from, quite literally, coast-to-coast participated in this auction, utilizing the telephone, the internet, and “left bids” or “absentee bids” to secure one of the 40 lots offered that day.
The artwork offered was labeled “historically significant” because it spanned the entirety of the 20th century. The first lot of the auction was Charles Ethan Porter’s beautifully painted, Mountain Laurels, executed within the first decade of the 20th century. Porter grew up in Connecticut, and studied art in New York and Paris. He was the first African American admitted into the National Academy of Design in New York. He specialized in still life painting, which was evident in this wonderful example. Two telephone bidders hotly contested this lot, driving it past the presale estimate to sell for $28,800.
The star lot of the sale, painted by Eldzier Cortor in the 1940s, depicted the face of a young African American woman in the extreme foreground, and revealing an almost surreal interior and the moon through a broken window behind her. Cortor was part of the “Chicago Renaissance of Black Art” in the 1930s-1940s. He worked with a number of other well known artists, including Archibald Motley, Charles White, Margaret Burroughs, and Charles Sebree at the Southside Community Center in south Chicago. Cortor was a figure painter best known for his depictions of African American women. He once said, “The Black Woman represents the Black Race. She is the Black Spirit; she conveys a feeling of eternity, and the continuum of life.”
The bidding opened at $30,000, which was the expected low estimate for the lot, surpassing the high estimate of $50,000, to finally sell to a telephone bidder for $114,000, a possible record price for a work by this artist at auction.
A painting done by another Chicago painter, and associate of Cortor’s , Charles Sebree, sold within its estimates at $10,800. The painting, titled Saltimbanques , a French word for “street performers” was done in the 1950s. Sebree was influenced by the European modern masters, especially the work of Georges Rouault. His subject matter was not generally concerned with making any sort of social commentary, rather it was the character of the individual that intrigued Sebree.
Walter Williams was a New York painter and printmaker who worked primarily in the 1950s-70s. He traveled to Mexico in the 1950s and lived in Denmark in the 1960s, before returning to the U.S. It’s no surprise that his style reflects the variety of influences, sometimes contrasting, that he experienced in his career. The most significant work included in the sale was Sundown , done in 1958. Williams used a combination of mediums, including paint, wax. crayon, pastel, and even sand to create this striking image. Specialist Thom Pegg said that although it sold within its presale estimate, at $11,400, it was possibly the bargain of the auction.
A very interesting mixed media work by Marie Johnson Calloway from 1970 drew interest from California. Her work was included in an exhibition called Now Dig This , Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 that recently closed at the Hammer Museum at UCLA and is moving to MOMA’s PS1 Space. Collectors are beginning to look more closely at this time period of African American art because of exhibits like this and scholarly publications on the subject. Another factor pushing collectors in this direction is the lack of availability of earlier works. Pegg says, “many people just don’t realize how difficult it was for many of these artists to consistently produce art in the face of financial hardship and racial discrimination surrounding galleries and exhibits. The early work is much more scarce than one might think.” The Johnson piece, titled Young Girl with Braids, constructed of paint, wood, hair and fabric, sold for slightly under estimate at $1440.
Overall, it seemed that original, unique works, such as oil paintings and sculpture did very well, even in the case of lesser known artists, while multiples sold more reasonably. Original prints by big names such as Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden sold for under $2000. Pegg believes that this supports the idea that even in a strong market such as African American Art, it is possible to own legitimate, original works by significant artists. “There is something for every price range, and this allows virtually everyone to collect something that has an inherent value and enjoy it at the same time”, says Pegg.
The next auction of African American Art is scheduled for fall of 2012. Contact Thom Pegg for more information and to consign.